How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

My aim in writing HBSMW

Up until the late eighteenth century, Britain was producing just enough goods to meet the needs of its population. Then something changed; the cotton merchants of Lancashire realised that they could produce massively more, and export it. This rapid increase in production kick-started the movement we call the Industrial Revolution. Half a century later, Britain celebrated its great achievement in the full view of the world at a Great Exhibition in London’s Hyde Park. 

May the hundred years that followed, up to the Festival of Britain in 1951, rightly be called the glorious century of British Manufacturing?

Much that is good, which we made in that century, has been made available to the wider world: the steam and jet engines,  railways, radar, rubber tyres and antibiotics. We in turn have much to thank other peoples for: the Flemish for teaching weaving, the French and Germans for the internal combustion engine. There is much to celebrate and be proud of, but it would be wrong to ignore the bad chapters: much of the early revolution was built on slavery and dreadful working conditions for our great-great grandparents. 

Other countries may now be manufacturing more,  but Britain was where it all started, where ideas became inventions, and, indeed still do; where hard working and talented people made their mark. It is a cause for celebration. 

All around the country it is possible to visit restored mills and museums dedicated to industries with strong echoes from those times. Many names will linger in the memory from childhood. But where did they come from and where have they gone? This book aims to offer a glimpse of their story.

The Flying Scotsman

You can buy How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World at Pen & Sword, on Amazon and at WH Smith.

 

HBSMW synopsis by chapter

The Great Exhibition of 1851 celebrated over seventy years of British manufacturing built on invention and hard work, but also slavery and harsh working conditions. A century later, the Festival of Britain pointed to a future of peace built on creativity. They are part of the same story.

In the mid eighteenth century, Britain, like other European nations, was essentially a subsistence economy prospering and declining in line with uncertain harvests. There were a few people growing wealthy on trade with far-away places, but it was still wealth in land that ruled. Then something happened; merchants, who had imported wonderful cotton textiles from India, realised that they could make vastly more money by importing raw cotton and using local labour and the benign climatic conditions of the northwest to spin and weave in Britain. This ignited a process which we now know as the Industrial revolution.

The Great Exhibition showed off its fruits: textiles and textile machinery, steam engines and sewing machines, railway locomotives and steam powered ships, and telegraph apparatus. My great grandfather was there with the surgical instruments his business made. Charlotte Bronte wrote of her visit.

There followed a century of even greater invention: bicycles, electric motors and generating machinery; internal combustion engines powering land based vehicles, ships and aircraft; tin cans, refrigeration and radio; antibiotics, anaesthetics and nylon.

The Crimean War and the two World Wars created a vast armaments industry, but left this country broke and in debt. 

In 1951, an impoverished nation celebrated again with the Festival of Britain, and showed the world the wonderful creativity of the British people, offering hope for a better future.

This book seeks to celebrate British manufacturing, telling its story whilst keeping rose tinted spectacles at bay.

 1. A Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace

An exploration of the names of exhibitors, whence they came and where they went. My great grandfather was there with Surgical Instruments.

2. Trade, Exploration and Shipping

The British, as an adventurous trading people, created the base on which the industrial revolution would be built. This in turn created a shipbuilding industry.

3. Coal and Metal

Coal, as a source of power, was fundamental to the revolution, as was the metal it could smelt and which could be made into machines.

4. Textiles

If trade and coal powered the revolution, textiles were the product which produced the wealth to drive it forward.

5. Steam and Steel

Steam engines powered by coal and made of metal transformed a steady revolution into an explosion of economic activity. We see signs of Britain's influence spreading as the British built railways in France and further afield, and men like Joseph Ruston sold steam pumps to Russia and to the new oil industry.

6. Communication

Steam powered railway trains connected the nation and provided the routes for electric telegraph to push aside the handwritten letter. Mechanised printing and paper making made books and newspapers windely available.

7. Armaments

Steam engines also made armaments, increasingly needed as the rivalry of nations transformed into battle.

8. Manufacturing for the Home

The railways linked towns with each other and with the coast. High Streets appeared with shops selling all manner of fresh and manufactured products to a hungry population.

9. The Sewing Machine and Bicycle

Sewing machines made of metal transformed the production of clothing from cloth already manufactured by machine. The intricate skills of sewing machine manufacture were applied to the bicycle, making cheap transport available to the working man.

10. The Internal Combustion Engine

From the bicycle to move to a vehicle powered by that other fossil fuel, oil, was a logical extension. British manufacturers were at first held back by the Red Flag, but, once it was removed, factories began to appear in places like Coventry, Birmingham and Oxford. Why stay on the ground? Powered aircraft began to be seen in the skies. Ships began to be fuelled by oil.

11. Electric Power

The dynamo opened the flood gates both to the generation of electricity and its use in powering the factories of Britain, in lighting streets and homes and in providing transport for urban dwellers.

12. The Great War

On the eve of the Great War, Britain was the giant of world manufacturing. The trenches of Flanders would see this power, but also that of Germany, France and America. The four years of war witnessed technical advances but drained the nation's resources to the advantage of America who assumed the position of top dog

13. The Aftermath of War

An initial boom was followed by the collapse of traditional industries, with unemployment and depression.

14. The Interwar Years

New industries bucked the trend: motor vehicles, electricity, aircraft, chemicals. New industries begat new centres of population; house building boomed. None of this could protect the country from the crash in the USA

15. Rearmament and the Second World War

For many war began in 1935 with well hidden rearmament. Shadow factories were built to manufacture aircraft safe from enemy bombing. Once again the whole nation went to war, with the motor vehicle factories this time taking the lead followed by electronics and chemicals. Once again the nation emerged victorious, but drained of resource.

16. The Post-war Export Drive

With the coffers empty, the nation had to export its way back into prosperity. The motor industry led the way alongside electronics and chemicals. Once again a post war boom hid the problems facing shipbuilding

17. The Festival of Britain

A century after the Great Exhibition, the Festival of Britain celebrated what it meant to be British. Manufacturing was not centre stage but was ever present with the new white hope of nuclear power and new materials: aluminium used for London Underground trains, fibreglass and rubber used for flooring. It was a time of hope after the deprivation of war.

You can buy How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World at Pen & Sword, on Amazon and at WH Smith.

Monday, June 27, 2022

HBSMW - The Great Exhibition of 1851

'A great people invited all civilised nations to a festival to bring into comparison the works of human skill.' So wrote Sir Henry Cole one of the exhibition's organisers. 

On 1 May 1851, Queen Victoria opened the exhibition in Hyde Park to crowds eager to see this display of British invention. It was held in a building made of steel and 30,000 panes of hand blown glass. Inside were machines, exhibits from all around the country, the Empire and wider world. 

The catalogue to the Great Exhibition, copies of which are in many libraries, is also available online. This reveals many connections, for example with the Stokes Mortar, which was invented by the managing director of the Ipswich engineers, Ransomes, who had exhibited the equipment they were making for the railway companies. For Lincoln dwellers there is an entry for Clayton, Shuttleworth & Co with an oscillating steam-engine but with ‘arrangements simple and compact, suitable for working corn mills, sawing machinery etc

My great grandfather was secretary to the committee of Surgical Instrument makers and he managed the business of J Weiss Co at 62, The Strand. He was presented with a catalogue, the cover of which has been preserved. 

Thumbing through the catalogue, it is interesting to see the names that have survived to this day: Heal & Sons no longer make furniture, but still sell it, Fox Brothers still produce wool textiles, and famously Siemens but the British arm of the family. Winsor & Newton are still active in supplying the arts community as are Rowney now as part of Daler-Rowney.

Most of the thousands of companies exhibiting at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park that summer of 1851 thrived and either died or combined as British manufacturing reached and passed its zenith. 

That year was also marked by the first comprehensive census which offers an idea of how the nation was employed. Textiles Agriculture came top with some two million people; textiles came second at over a million. Domestic service loomed large but so did coal mining and metal working. It was a nation at work.

You can buy How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World at Pen & Sword, on Amazon and at WH Smith.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Reviews of How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World

This is a brilliant book. I am reading it and find it both very enlightening and absolutely full of information. Recommend it!

Neil Main - Managing Director Micrometric Limited

The subject is fascinating; covering the period between the Great Exhibition and the Festival of Britain would seem to be an impossible task, but you have done it very well indeed. There are some great photographs.

Richard Pullen - author of The Landships of Lincoln

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 

Fascinating book.

Well written and brings life the amazing work many people did within manufacturing.

I never knew Britain had such a wide history.

Karen Bull - NetGalley 

When Phil asked me to write the forward to his book, I was not prepared for the scale, scope, detail and insights I would gain through this magnificent body of work.

Phil covers the changing industrial and manufacturing landscape between the two great exhibitions of 1851 and 1951, the latter being the year I was born.

Household names, emerge, merge and disappear as the reader is taken on a wonderful journey from our seafaring and exploring past, through a depression and two world wars to the wonderful exhibition of 1951 which displayed the strength and depth of our industrial capability.

Paul Barron CBE DSc from the foreword he wrote for the book.



You can buy How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World at Pen & Sword, on Amazon and at WH Smith.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World published 15 June 2022

 Great to hear that the book is in the warehouse ready for despatch. 

The peoples of the British Isles gave to the world the foundations on which modern manufacturing economies are built. This is quite an assertion, but history shows that, in the late eighteenth century, a remarkable combination of factors and circumstances combined to give birth to Britain as the first manufacturing nation. Further factors allowed it to remain top manufacturing dog well into the twentieth century whilst other countries were busy playing catch- up. Through two world wars and the surrounding years, British manufacturing remained strong, albeit whilst ceding the lead to the United States.

This book seeks to tell the remarkable story of British manufacturing, using the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a prism. Prince Albert and Sir Henry Cole had conceived an idea of bringing together exhibits from manufacturers across the world to show to its many millions of visitors the pre-eminence of the British. 1851 was not the start, but rather a pause for a bask in glory.

The book traces back from the exhibits in Hyde Park’s Crystal Palace to identify the factors that gave rise to this pre-eminence, just as the factory system at Cromford Mill. It then follows developments up until the Festival of Britain exactly one century later. Steam power and communication by electric telegraph, both British inventions, predated the Exhibition. After it came the sewing machine and bicycle, motor car and aeroplane, but also electrical power, radio and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Here is a bit about me 

And here is a link to Pen&Sword in the hope that you will want to buy a copy.

Monday, June 6, 2022

How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World - my approach

I had, through my earlier writing, discovered that my great grandfather had exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and so I found a copy of the catalogue and began to thumb through. They were there, some of the businesses I had come across in my research into army supply in the world wars. I also found many others whose names rang bells from my childhood. Those names sent me on voyages of discovery. 

I read many books, including David Cannadine’s Victorious Century which gave me the context. I devoured Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Revolution which offered a radical view of the industrial revolution. I had studied urbanisation as part of my BA, and so turned to Jerry White for his books on London in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It soon became clear that trade was at the heart of the birth of British manufacturing and so I turned to Anthony Slaven’s, British Shipbuilding 1500-2010 and Peter Moore’s, The Endeavour. From there it was on to the more familiar coal and iron with Robert Galloway’s, A History of Coal Mining in Great Britain, Eric Hopkins’s, The Rise of the Manufacturing Town Birmingham and the Industrial Revolution and Roger Osborne’s, Iron, Steam & Money; I had studied the role of Birmingham also as part of my BA. Hobsbawm had directed me to textiles, and so I read The Lancashire Cotton Industry – A History since 1700, edited by Mary Rose, and Robert Poole’s, Peterloo – the English Uprising

This brought me to individual British companies. I am massively grateful to Grace’s Guide’s wonderful online resource, but also to company’s websites and to writers of articles for their painstaking exploration of subject areas. I read authors who have devoted themselves to securing for posterity the stories of the companies they explored:, Bernard Newman’s, One Hundred Years of Good Company on Ruston & Hornsby, J.D. Scott, Siemens Brothers 1858-1958 and also his Vickers: A History, Demaus. and Tarring’s, The Humber Story 1868-1932, Geoff Carverhill, Rootes Story: The Making of a Global Automotive Empire, Carol Kennedy’s ICI The Company that Changed our Lives, and Alan Towsin’s books on a number of commercial vehicle manufacturers. Books on industries: Aileen Fyfe, Steam-Powered Knowledge, George I Brown, The Big Bang: A History of Explosives, Alex Askaroff’s, A Brief History of the Sewing Machine, William Manners’s, Revolution: How the Bicycle Reinvented Modern Britain, Steven Parissien’s, The Life of the Automobile, A New History of the Motor Car, Peter Dancy’s, British Aircraft Manufacturers since 1909, Graham Turner’s, The Car Makers, Keith Geddes and Gordon Bussey’s, Setmakers – A History of the Radio and Television Industry. Books on people and families: Henrietta Heald’s William Armstrong, Magician of the North, Marion Miller’s, Cawnpore to Cromar: The MacRoberts of Douneside, and Andrews and Brunner’s, The Life of Lord Nuffield – A Study in Enterprise and Benevolence. The Complete Great British Railway Journeys by Charlie Bunce and Karen Farrington provided a vivid verbal map which helped me navigate a sometimes crowded landscape.

I carried out my own research into Census returns and published industrial statistics; I had explored industry in the interwar years as part of my BA. My earlier work on supplies in the two world wars proved of enduring value: War on Wheels on the mechanisation of the British Army in the Second World War, Ordnance on Equipping the Army for the Great War and Dunkirk to D Day which looked at the lives of some of the leaders of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps to whose lot this massive task fell.


How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World is available to pre-order from Pen & Sword


How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World is now available to pre-order

Phil Hamlyn Williams has completed his sixth book beginning an exploration of British manufacturing. His great-grandfather exhibited at the ...